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18 former soldiers could face charges over the massacre on Bloody Sunday

By Michael McHugh and David Young

Prosecutors are considering charging 18 British soldiers over involvement in the Bloody Sunday shootings in Northern Ireland, according to a relative of one of the men who died.

It has also been reported that the Public Prosecution Service (PPS) is considering charges including murder, attempted murder, wounding and what are termed "joint enterprise" crimes, in which two or more people are jointly involved.

Detective Chief Inspector Ian Harrison from the PSNI's Legacy Investigation Branch confirmed that a report had been sent to the PPS for consideration.

"The families have been informed of this development," he told the BBC.

Thirteen people died when members of the Parachute Regiment opened fire on civil rights demonstrators in Londonderry in 1972. A 14th person died later.

All those killed were later pronounced innocent by a public inquiry led by Lord Saville.

Prime Minister David Cameron said in a formal statement in the House of Commons that the killings were unjustified and unjustifiable.

Prosecution of soldiers from Northern Ireland's 30-year conflict has attracted criticism in some quarters from those opposed to dragging elderly ex-servicemen through the courts.

The soldiers who may face prosecution have been referred to by letters of the alphabet allocated to them at the time of the Saville Inquiry.

Unionist politicians reacted angrily last night to news that prosecutions were under consideration.

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott - who served in the UDR - said there was a lack of proportionality in dealing with the past.

"The IRA and its supporters have tried to use Bloody Sunday as an excuse for their crimes against the people of Northern Ireland and this will continue to be used as another propaganda tool to demonise the British Army and the rest of the security forces," he said.

"Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on an inquiry into Bloody Sunday and an investigation employing dozens of investigators.

"Meanwhile, others such as the families of the innocent people slaughtered on the streets of Enniskillen by the Provisional IRA on Remembrance Sunday 1987 can't get an investigation into their loved ones' murders."

Mr Elliott - the UUP candidate for Fermanagh and South Tyrone in next month's general election, claimed that the families of the other innocent people murdered at Teebane, Bloody Friday, La Mon and others have been "practically ignored".

"They deserve equality, they deserve respect - their loved ones had the right to life which the IRA took away," he added.

The DUP's Gregory Cambell said any prosecution of soldiers involved in Bloody Sunday would only serve the interests of "those who wanted to rewrite the past".

"Those who foolishly welcomed the revised Saville Report and thought that was the end of the matter have now had their answer.

"As I said at the time, it would not be the end of the matter. People right across Northern Ireland and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom will be demanding that any evidence which exists against surviving participants from the IRA killing campaign must be immediately investigated.

"This is an outrageous example of former soldiers who stood against the sectarian terrorism of 1972, instigated by the IRA, now being tried whilst many of those who hid behind balaclavas have avoided any trial," the East Londonderry general election candidate said.

John Kelly's brother Michael was among those killed. He said yesterday: "The Public Prosecution Service is investigating 18 soldiers."

The PPS said: "Investigation files in relation to Bloody Sunday were passed to the PPS in December 2016 and are presently under active consideration. No prosecution decision has yet been taken in relation to these files and it is likely to be some time before any decision will issue.

"We have recently made contact with families to provide an update on progress and also to explain our role and some of the legal issues that require consideration in this case."

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